Rachel Maddow   |  December 04, 2013

Leak: Right-wing group loses big over gun law

Ed Pilkington, U.S. chief reporter for The Guardian, talks with Rachel Maddow about what leaked documents have revealed about conservative policy group, ALEC.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> president carter went up on the roof of the white house today to show off the no solar water heaters installed there. and called on using more solar energy .

>> reporter: these solar panels at the white house cost almost $30,000, and heat the white house . but they are meant to symbolize president carter's use of energy. according to the statement, it is safer and more reliable than the energy we use now.

>> that was june of 1979 . the americans were used to waiting in long lines at gas stations , when president carter warmed his hands on the panels and promised tax credits to people who put them on their homes and businesses. let's get energy independence , go solar, well, seven years later, a republican president named ronald reagan had the panels taken down, supposedly for repairs. this summer, new and improved panels got put back up, once again as part of a green overhaul on pennsylvania avenue . the new panels are expected to pay for themselves in energy savings over the course of president obama 's tenure. but just down the street at the grand hyatt hotel in washington, the white house 's solar panels are the object of scorn and strategy. it is the meeting of the exchange council, alec , the consortium, where mostly republicans fought for the passage in their states. the initiative is to punish american homeowners who choose to go solar, the idea is to make the solar-powered homeowners pay a penalty for using fewer fossil fuels, disincentivize the use. alec 's stated objective is blocking the renewable energy at the state and federal level . touting their laws that reform, freeze or repeal state or renewable energy mandates. these internal documents obtained by "the guardian" boasts that 15 states used this kind of legislation. they try to get their bills copied and passed as law in as many states as possible. that is what they do. the american legislative exchange council . they write or take legislation and then shop it to other states. sometimes they already became law, like in the bill stripping union rights or in florida, the " stand your ground law." the nationwide proliferation of that idea from florida was once a shining achievement for alec , creating a whole new legal determination for justifiable homicide . the stand your ground doctrine was a shining achievement for them, until the case of trayvon martin who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchman named george zimmerman, who was found not guilty of second degree murder in that case. the case, of course, got a ton of national attention, and the stand your ground laws got a ton of national attention, and since then, many powerful companies with interests in alec have stopped their association with the organization . our parent company , comcast, has not ceased its association with alec , but lots of companies like coca-cola and craft and pepsi even ceased paying dues to alec , even though alec announced they were getting out of the gun rights business, and even though they wrote the task force on the bill. it has had an effect on this very influential conservative organization . the documents show that a third of alec 's revenue is gone, year over year, owing to big corporate members leaving the organization . alec has also lost 400 state legislators from their ranks, the group is so worried about this attrition that they started a movement to get the corporate leaders back, trying to woo their well healed members back to the organization . also, a promise to keep member's names anonymous with the new organization designed in the 501 c 4 -category, which means that donors could remain anonymous, they could keep supporting the group, but remain unembarrassed. something with the legislative agenda that alec promotes. other documents posted by the guardian reveal that alec is not only trying to recover its corporate revenue, but they're also asking for a stronger commitment from lawmakers that stayed true to the organization , asking that legislators pledge to act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first. put the interests of the organization first. how about the constituents that voted you into office. joining us now is the chief reporter for the guardian newspaper which broke the story about alec . thank you for joining us.

>> great to be here.

>> a long story, you recovered a lot of information about this group about which people have been very curious but know very little. i should ask if i misstated any of that information?

>> no, it represents it well.

>> what have we learned about this group that we didn't know before?

>> well, the thing that caught our attention, you mentioned it was the prodigal son document, they misspelled it. never nevertheless, the 41 companies, coke, pepsi, walmart, ge, all the big companies in america they lost in the last couple of years and now are desperate to get back, that is an affirmation that we learned bit by bit is that alec is in trouble. and i think the reason they're in trouble goes to the heart of one of the great strengths of alec , they were a very secret organization . and that suits the companies who back them. most of their money comes from corporations, and they meet the legislators who are introduced to them. and they together vote on legislation which then gets passed around the state. if that is done in secret, that is fine, that really suits them. they get what they want, lower regulation or stopping climate change regulation, or stopping people from putting up panels on the roof. if that becomes public, the work that alec is doing, and other groups have done tirelessly over the last couple of years to open the door on the activities. there is one thing that corporations like less than taxes and regulations and that is bad publicity. and that is the trayvon martin fallout, in the core of the stand your ground laws, 26 states have them still, partly due to alec 's influence. when alec got caught in that, that in turn caused a problem.

>> this is a key part in how they're intending to win corporations back, do you think the sort of restructuring they're describing could allow them to be anonymous.

>> it is partly the anonymity. now, if you get two people in the room, one is the state legislator , the other, the big corporation and they agree on legislation, vote together, that legislation gets taken up by state assembly and becomes law. now, is that lobbying?

>> it appears to be a beautiful relationship --

>> it is a bit of fun or maybe a bit of lobbying going on there. there is a huge gray area in america about lobbying. and i think it will become more and more important, obama flagged it up, they said they wouldn't allow groups like karl rove 's group, regarding elections, now alec doesn't do that, get involved in campaigns, it is actively involved in what happens to people after they get elected. you know, what happens to a state assemblyman and what laws are passed. and that is when alec gets involved. there will be more debate about it, alec is a tax-exempt charity. what it does is cook up legislation.

>> if i had the choice of choosing who could be elected in a particular election or writing the laws that that person would introduce as a legislator once they were there, i know which one